Please explain Cordelia as a tragic figure in King Lear.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As he grew older, wiser, and more experienced, successful, and confident as a playwright, Shakespeare learned he could express his own views and feelings through his characters. Cordelia here is telling the truth about human nature, evolution, and parent-child--especially father-daughter--relations. Little girls typically adore their fathers up to a certain age, but evolution has programmed them to turn their attentions and affections away to young and unrelated males. In modern life we see adolescent girls develop an interest in actors, rock stars, and others they used to call "those horrid...

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parkerlee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Shakespeare's dramatisation of the story of King Lear and his three daughters, Cordelia is the youngest and the most loved of the three daughters of the old king. Cordelia seems to be a Cinderella figure, with Regan & Goneril as the wicked step-sisters. She is the 'good daughter' who refuses to quantify her love for her father while the other two sisters flatter their father to get their shares of kingdom. Cordelia is banished by Lear from the kingdom for her stubborn repetition of 'nothing', and she leaves as the bride of the king of France. Later in the play, when the old king is abused by his two 'Pelican daughters' and driven out into the open, storm-tossed heath, it is Cordelia who raises an army to land in Dover for her father's rescue. But unfortunately, Lear's 'good daughter' is intercepted and hanged to death by the wicked daughters and their accomplices.

Cordelia's banishment from the kingdom of her father's love, her failed attempt to rescue her wronged father from the tyranny of her wicked sisters, her pathetic death--all make her a tragic figure. Her refusal to flatter Lear with false rhetoric of love and loyalty must have been Cordelia's tragic flaw/error. Some regard her rigid iteration of the word 'nothing' as a sign of stubborn pride which leads to her banishment and tragic death. There are others who see Coredelia's refusal to appease her father in a game show of love as a mark of her authentic and truthful character. Why should a daughter stand up to the foolish indignities of an oral test of love?

Cordelia represents the Christian virtues of mercy, charity & honesty. She could even be seen as a Christ-figure, an innocent lamb sacrificed. Codelia is defeated and dead, but she transcends her traditional female role, and emerging as a moral hero upholding the virtues of loyalty and truth.

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